February 25, 2012 (Aljazeera and Agencies)
February 25, 2012 (Aljazeera and Agencies)
The Syrian military has extended its bombardment of the opposition-held Bab Amr district of Homs into a fourth week as the Red Cross tried to evacuate more distressed civilians from the city.
Dozens of people were killed in Homs and elsewhere in Syria on Saturday, according to the Local Co-ordination Committees activist network.
Deploring the outcome of an international “Friends of Syria” conference held on Friday in Tunisia, opposition activists said the world had abandoned them to be killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
“They [world leaders] are still giving opportunities to this man who is killing us and has already killed thousands of people,” Nadir Husseini, an activist in Bab Amr, said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had resumed negotiations with the Syrian authorities and the opposition to enable more civilians to be brought to safety.
Husseini said people in Bab Amr were suspicious of the ICRC’s local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and did not want to work with a group “under the control of the regime”.
The ICRC denied this, saying the Syrian Red Crescent was an independent organisation.
“Their volunteers are risking their lives on a daily basis to help everyone with no exceptions,” Hicham Hassan, ICRC spokesperson, said in Geneva.
The ICRC said the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had evacuated a total of 27 people from Bab Amr on Friday.
The injured were taken to a privately owned local hospital, the Red Cross said.
No men, however, chose to leave, fearing arrest and torture if they left, Al Jazeera’s James Bays reported from Beirut.
“There have previously been allegations that people have been taken from those hospitals and taken to prisons, and that people have even been tortured, we’ve been told, in the hospitals,” Bays said.
The ICRC announced on its official Twitter feed on Saturday afternoon that, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, it was negotiating for a ceasefire that would allow all the wounded and sick in need of urgent care to be evacuated.
Two injured foreign journalists and the bodies of two others who died in a shelling attack on a media centre on Wednesday were not among those taken out of Bab Amr on Friday.
Syria’s foreign ministry accused “armed groups” of refusing to hand them over, but sources told Al Jazeera that the journalists had refused to leave of their own volition.
Edith Bouvier, a 31-year-old freelance journalist for Le Figaro, the French newspaper, has two fractures in her femur.
The other surviving journalist, the British Sunday Timesphotographer Paul Conroy, escaped from the attack with minor leg injuries. On Thursday, Bouvier and Conroy appeared in a video posted on YouTube, asking to be evacuated for medical treatment.
The pair refused to be evacuated by the Syrian Red Cross on Friday, until they were guaranteed a diplomatic or ICRC escort.
They also said they would not go until a so-called humanitarian corridor had been opened for all in injured Syrians in the city, given that many had been injured for up to a month without any access to proper medical care.
Civilians have reported desperate conditions in Bab Amr.
“We have hundreds of wounded people crammed into houses,” Husseini, the activist, said. “People are dying from lack of blood because we just don’t have the capability of treating everyone.”
The Tunis conference was intended to increase diplomatic pressure on Assad to end an almost year-long crackdown on opponents of his 11-year rule in which thousands of Syrians have been killed.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said Assad would be held to account for the bloodshed and sharply criticised Russia and China, which have blocked any UN measures against Syria.
But to beleaguered Syrians the speeches seemed remote.
A doctor in the restive town of Zabadani said: “I’m really frightened that after all these efforts we will still end up like Hama in 1982, killed while the world waits and watches.”
Assad’s father crushed an armed Islamist uprising in Hama 30 years ago, killing many thousands of civilians and razing parts of the city with tanks and artillery in a three-week assault.
“The people of Zabadani resent what happened in Tunis,” the doctor, who asked not to be named, said. “We need them to arm the revolution. I don’t understand what they are waiting for. Do they need to see half the people of Syria finished off first?”
Diplomacy is hamstrung because Russia and China, which did not attend the Tunisia meeting, oppose Security Council action and there is little appetite for military intervention in Syria.
In Bab Amr, activist Husseini said he had “lost faith in everyone but God”, but the uprising would go on regardless.
“The shelling is just like it was yesterday. We have had 22 days of this. The women and children are all hiding in basements,” he said, his words tumbling out in anger.
“No one would dare try to flee the neighbourhood, that is instant death. You’d have to get past snipers and soldiers. Then there is a trench that surrounds our neighbourhood and a few others. Then you have to go past more troops.”
(Picture: Edith Bouvier in an undisclosed location in Homs)